There it sat, a message in my in-box, supposedly from Capital One. It had the logo and everything, but I know how these scammers work. It was probably a phishing scheme, trying to get my card number and PIN. It said I’d earned enough miles to cash them in, either on plane tickets or gift cards from various stores. Two hundred dollars’ worth! Too good to be true?
Rather than prove myself the fool this e-mail took me for, I picked up my phone and called customer service. To my great surprise, it turned out that the message was legit, and I had that money at my disposal – for tickets, or for gift cards at places like Lowe’s, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.
It was no contest. They had me at Barnes & Noble. Now, I know I’m supposed to be opposed to big box book stores, but after every single Borders in the world shut down, I was so upset, I could only overcome my despair by shopping at B&N, even when Amazon was cheaper. I still needed my Borders fix, a need that could only be filled by walking into a big store full of books, magazines, and a café area where I could browse and sip a mocha simultaneously.
I could have chosen Amazon. After all, you can apparently buy everything but the kitchen sink from them these days. (Does anyone but me remember when we bought CDs from a separate place called CD.com?) Just a glance at Amazon’s categories gives you an idea – appliances, automotive, baby, beauty, pet supplies, shoes, wine, kitchen sinks (guess I was wrong!) – of the enormity of their wares. Can’t you just see your order of a crate of Cabernet, with a chaser of running shoes, being droned to your sidewalk in this weather?
So I went with the book store. Even though my ancient Cuisinart food processor has irretrievably broken and can no longer be McGyvered to chop up veggies or knead a few loaves of bread dough, and Amazon has exactly the one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, I chose the card that will get me $200 worth of books, but no cooking appliances.
It’s not that I need more books. I can’t seem to stop wanting them. Writers keep writing, and publishers keep publishing, bless their hearts. My daughter just bought a new book case and offered her old one to me. I took it. Of course I did. It’s crying out for books.
When I say I have a lot of books, some people smile knowingly and say, “Of course you do – you’re a librarian!” They’ve got it backwards. I became a librarian because I love books. The fact that many librarians spend a lot of time managing materials other than books these days is not lost on me. My daughter, a public librarian, just sighs when people ask if they can “rent” a DVD. I take heart in the number of books, real books, on the hold shelf at her library. People still read books, new and old.
Yeah, sure, your Kindle is cool, but how does the cover feel? How do the pages smell? How does the feeling of having a pile of Books To Be Read on the coffee table compare with having 726 titles on your e-reader? I’m old fashioned, I know. When I read a heartwarming sentence, I sometimes stop reading and press the book, still open to that page, against the spot where my actual heart beats. Wouldn’t it feel kind of cold and creepy to do that with a hard-edged tablet? I can’t imagine crying over the splendid ending of Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder” on a Kindle.
But I came here to praise books, not to argue about reading platforms. After all, I could use my magic B&N card to order a Nook HD+. No thank you, though. It’s books I want, and it’s books I’ll order.
You may be asking yourself, Doesn’t reading set off her headaches? And yes, that’s true, it does. Reading something online is the worst. In print, I can sometimes get halfway through an issue of the New Yorker before my head begins revving up. Audiobooks have been helpful, especially when read by the author. (I’m especially fond of Des Moines native Bill Bryson’s readings, because he’s got a cool American Midwest/British accent from all his years in England.)
Having this card, which I haven’t used yet, is like having a genie in a bottle. But instead of offering three wishes, he’s there, like a game show host, to offer whatever’s behind Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3. On the game shows, this dilemma sends the show’s participants, not to mention the audience, into a frenzy. They know that one door might hold a state-of-the art washer and dryer, and another a brand-new Ford. One of them, though, offers only a bag of chips, or a duck.
Once, when I was sixteen and working a terrible part-time job, I decided to blow my entire two-week paycheck on record albums. I earned a tiny amount, but they cost a measly five dollars, so I could buy a lot. Sadly, I can’t recall even one. It felt like I’d overstuffed myself at Thanksgiving, eating every dish just because it was there. I bought albums I didn’t really want, just for the thrill of spending lavishly.
Now I’m trying to learn from that lesson, and not buy books I could borrow – from a friend or a library – instead. How to decide whether to buy or to borrow? That’s simple. I picture myself having to give it back. If that feels unbearable, it’s going into my virtual shopping cart. Remember that, the next time YOU get a windfall.